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Design Review: Volume 2, Issue 2 (August-September 1949)

A Gleam on the Horizon

A Gleam on the Horizon

Those of us interested in good design tend to ignore the fact that the vast majority of design is bad. Truer words were never spoken than when Milner Gray said that this was not a period of the rebirth of good design, but that there was a faint gleam on the horizon. The opposition and obstruction to good design as a general and universal standard is mountainous, and there is no good fairy to remove the mountain overnight. Only recently Pevsner remarked that ninety per cent. of British industrial design was devoid of any aesthetic merit. Investigation would probably more than confirm this figure for New Zealand.

This is an age of steel, of speed, of work that does not allow of much play or carefree enjoyment. It calls for the design of severe forms of simple and carefully considered proportion. To this fact the public has never become reconciled. They may choose a low-priced article for its utility, but the costly article becomes an inexhaustible source of sham splendour. A complete rejection of and a fleeing from this age of austerity is shown by the popularity of ye olde candlestick lamp fittings. This state of affairs will not be altered until the public selects a kettle or a clock as carefully as an evening dress.

Public bodies set no example. Even the British Government's encouragement of design institutions can only come from the mouth and not from the heart while they continue to furnish their overseas embassies in period styles. Civic bodies are too scared to enter into far-reaching schemes for new design even when means and money allow, for fear of losing votes; such might even savour of the Left.

The manufacturer hides behind the excuse of giving the public what it wants and disclaims the role of reformer. His standard of design is dictated not by the public but by travellers, salesmen, buyers, and shop-keepers. They consider a plate with cottage trees and cupids. or a perambulator with golden scrolls is a faster selling and therefore a more profitable article.

In the few year of the history of industrial design informed private opinion has made little difference. Britain paid no attention to it until 1930 when competition from foreign manufacturers drove its goods off the foreign market. Industrial design there has now awakened new interest on account of Britain's export drive. The New Zealand manufacturer, however, is not likely to re-design his wares while he cannot produce enough to satisfy the market and is short of staff. He is going to need much persuasion even then.

These few words are not written in a spirit of hopelessness or pessimism. Well designed objects, good architecture, sound town planning are worth fighting for. It is never good policy to underrate the enemy's strength.